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Esther Sadoff

I tell my mother I want to triumph over evil

Meaning triumph over the tiny orange leaf 

falling in my coffee cup, triumph over the bathing suit 

I left out to dry on the porch and forgot,

triumph over the laundry machine's leaky tangle

of black tubes dripping on the floor. 

I want to vanquish the voice inside my head — 

the dark twine squeezing my heart like floss 

wrapped around a finger. My mother tells me to be thankful, 

to stay the course but all I hear are all 

the other courses slamming their doors. 

At 8 am my mother is out walking the foster dog. 

She is teaching her not to run after rabbits, 

to sit by the lake and just notice the ducks.

When she sees a construction crane, they stop to stare at that too. 

When did I forget about the power of exposure? 

When did I forget about the invisible forces around me? 

Seeing is only one dimension of experience. 

My mother tries to tell me which way to go

but it's much easier to train a dog. 

Still I try to tell myself the tiny leaf 

falling into my coffee cup is a sign of luck,

the bathing suit left under the stars

harvests the scent of the wind.



My mother goes to the wedding in Boston

She takes pictures of stone walls, flowers, and sends them to me — 

stones like a row of old teeth in a forgotten mouth. 

My mother pretends to be a tour guide, announces

in her best tour-guide voice, There was a battle here and there 

but please don't ask any questions because I don't know 

the answer  and you won't remember the answer anyway.

That night I can barely hear her over the sound 

of blaring music. She is shouting, Do you know this song? 

All the people here know this song!

She is sitting with former students, all grown up.

I nod and smile even though I'm in my backyard alone at night. 

Do you remember Emily, Kelly, Jane? 

So many faces and facts I try to remember — 

dates of battles, piano lessons, students who moved away. 

I say Yes, I do. How could I forget? even though I don't remember — 

a blurred, kaleidoscope-tour of places, sights, and sounds.

A tour where everything remains nameless — 

though if you don't call a wall a wall,

it's still a pile of stones. It still stands. 



At my sister's house my mother can't sleep

She can't wait to cut more bushes, 

to chop the overgrown hedge to a stump,

to brush plants away from the stone path. 

She wants to believe that the garden needs this and it does. 

In the mid-August heat the foliage is near tropical, 

vines growing over everything, 

trees hanging low with heavy limbs, 

so in the morning my mother can't wait

to do more. She breathes easier, bearing

the earth to the sun, even though my sister 

insists the yard was fine as it was before.

I think my mother wakes the same way I do —

each day a rushing forward, a tingling

in the fingers and feet. The best days 

being the most full and there's no end

to what we’ll try to cram in in a day.

We both know a day can grow legs and run away

so my mother and I wake up running.

Even if we don't see the birds they keep on flying. 



When my sister goes to Singapore I get the what ifs 

What if the plane drops out of the sky like a bag of groceries?

What if her compression socks unthread themselves into a loosened ball of yarn? 

What if the dog runs in circles in the backyard until there's no breath left? 

What if the air hardens itself into a wall and no one can breathe anymore? 

Somehow she arrives. When she is twelve hours ahead of time, 

she sleeps when I wake and she wakes when I sleep.

She's on the other side of a cassette tape that I can only play backwards. 

When I call her on the phone I see our words like ants marching 

across a telephone wire. One ant at a time crawls through the phone

 then the ants all march away into the summer night.

She sends pictures of herself by the water, waves frozen in time like a blue gel. 

She sends pictures of a sign that says Caution! Downhill! Be safe! Be alert!

But the picture is not real. It has no bones or skin.

It does not breathe. It can not ride a bike. It can not sip 

a bowl of too-hot soup, lay its head on a pillow, and say goodnight. 



When my father can find no reason 

to wake he thinks of making pancakes 

for himself and my mother. 

I can’t think of a better reason to rise

though I'm no newcomer to the land of emptiness,

cold as a crow’s caw on a gray morning. 

Growing up, he let me drop in blueberries 

and chocolate chips onto the pooling batter —  

5 blueberries per pancake or 7 chocolate chips. 

Today I wake with no appetite but I eat 

my father's pancakes when I can.  

My father says a prayer for each home-cooked meal. 

My mother calls him sacrilegious,

as this breakfast prayer is to no real god, 

but  to the god of savings; though I don't think of money

saved but of saving the morning — 

ray after ray of dimmed amber light poured into the syrup,

a wash of clouds stirred into the coffee,

four hills of golden pancakes,

followed by  my mother's eye rolls and heavy sigh 

at the end of the prayer 

where we lift our joined hands to the sky. 


Esther Sadoff is a teacher and writer from Columbus, Ohio. Her poems have been featured or are forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Jet Fuel Review, Cathexis Poetry Northwest, Pidgeonholes, Santa Clara Review, South Florida Poetry Journal, among others. Her debut chapbooks, Some Wild Woman and Serendipity in France, are forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.


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